Nepalese figures withdrawn from Bonhams auction after identified as looted art

Organisation Lost Arts of Nepal spotted the items when they were listed for an online sale

A total of 12 bronze figures were once part the 16th century torona at the south door of Mulchok of the Taleju Bhavani Temple in Patan. The stolen figures were replaced with replicas in 2013. Courtesy Lost Arts of Nepal
A total of 12 bronze figures were once part the 16th century torona at the south door of Mulchok of the Taleju Bhavani Temple in Patan. The stolen figures were replaced with replicas in 2013. Courtesy Lost Arts of Nepal

A total of five gilded copper-bronze Nepalese sculptures were withdrawn from a Bonhams auction in Paris after it was discovered that they were looted from a temple in the 1980s.

The sculptures were included in an online auction of Himalayan and Buddhist art at Bonhams, which is ongoing until June 10. According to the website of the auction house, the lots in the sale include “Deities and Buddhas, Thangkas, Stupas, Ritual Ornaments and Aprons – all dated between the 3rd and 19th century, and collected during the 1960s and 1970s by a private European collector.”

The consignor, however, decided to withdraw five gilded figures, which were priced between €3,000 to €5,000 ($3,650 to $6,100) each, after the organisation Lost Arts of Nepal pointed out that they were stolen on their Facebook page.

The five gilded figures are among 12 embedded in a torana, or arched gateway, at the south door of Mulchok of the Taleju Bhavani Temple in Patan. The frieze dates back to the 16th century.

The original pieces were documented in the early 1970s by Indian art historian BN Banerjee before they were stolen from the site in 1984, eventually making their way to auction houses in Europe.

Nepali Times, which first reported the story about the looted items, stated that the thefts were recorded in a 1989 book titled Gods are Leaving the Country: Art Theft from Nepal by German scholar Jurgen Schick.

In the book, Schick describes the incident “one of the most odious cases of art theft in Nepal was the plundering of the torana of the Taleju Bhavani temple in the royal palace of Patan".

Following Lost Arts of Nepal’s findings and the newspaper report, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nepal office of Unesco called on Bonhmans and the French government to return the objects. Though the consignor has now withdrawn the figures, The Art Newspaper reported that he did not respond to the question of whether he would negotiate with the Nepalese claimants.

Lost Arts of Nepal details the objects that were looted from the Mulchok of Patan’s Taleju temple in the 1970s and 1980s. Courtesy Lost Arts of Nepal on Facebook
Lost Arts of Nepal details the objects that were looted from the Mulchok of Patan’s Taleju temple in the 1970s and 1980s. Courtesy Lost Arts of Nepal on Facebook

On its Facebook page, the Lost Arts of Nepal showed side-by-side comparisons of images of the original torana from the early 1970s that still had the bronzes and the empty frieze after the objects were stolen.

The organisation also showed images of the bronzes that were on sale at Bonhams, pointing out that they match the figures on the original gateway. Currently, the torana in Nepal features 12 replicas of the original that were placed in 2013.

Recently, there have been cases of reparations of stolen objects from collectors and museums to Nepal, including the return of an 800-year-old Laxmi-Narayan figure in April. The object was stolen from its shrine in Patan’s Pakto Tole in 1984. Though it appeared at a Sotheby’s auction in 1990, it disappeared again and only resurfaced in 2007, when it was displayed at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Updated: June 6, 2021 12:29 PM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one